Reviewby Carlo Santos,
DVD 3: Discovery
Summer's over and school is back in session, so it's no surprise that schoolgirl-turned-god Yurie is even busier than usual. First up is the daunting task of reviving the soul of the World War II battleship Yamato, which lies sunken underwater and longs to return to its port. Then it's on to more down-to-earth matters, like running for student president, and locating her younger brother when he runs off with next-door shrine girl Miko. When October arrives, it's time for the annual month-long God Convention, which requires Yurie to transfer to another school temporarily so that she can make it to the event. Now she's got to attend various seminars on godhood while at the same time making friends at a new school.
Anyone who's been following Kamichu! this far knows that every episode is a guaranteed dose of pouty Yurie cuteness—so no need to worry about constants like that. The critical variable, however, is the balance of fantasy and reality, which sometimes tips too far one way (Martian and feline weirdness) or the other (nobody wants to see an anime about stuff you already do at home). This batch of episodes, however, may be the one that finally nails it. At its most far-fetched, it takes Yurie to the bottom of the sea but comes back with bittersweet memories. At its most introspective, it looks into issues of brotherly and sisterly love. As usual, constantly stunning animation and a soundtrack for the ages provide the requisite audio-visual flourish, so if you haven't jumped on the Kamichu! bandwagon yet, now's a great time. Yurie is always looking for more worshippers.
The slice-of-life side is represented by the two inner episodes in this volume, which provide glimpses of Yurie's small-town existence without descending into boredom. Specific goals and dramatic tension keep the plot afloat; in Episode 10 it's the bid for the school presidency (bolstered by the hilariously uptight behavior of overzealous candidate Nishimura), and in Episode 11 it's the search for the missing younger siblings. Character relationships also take new directions in these episodes, with Mitsue showing the depth of her friendship in an impassioned support speech for Yurie, and brash Matsuri revealing her vulnerable side when little sister Miko runs off. As usual, the gentle pacing is what makes these emotional moments work, so those who prefer wild, hyperactive action will have to get their entertainment elsewhere.
Of course, a lack of hyperactivity doesn't mean a lack of creativity—just watch Episodes 9 and 12 to see the series at its most imaginative. The Yamato episode is a cavalcade of special water effects and divine ritual, and it's hard not to get a little choked up when that grand old ship glides down the harbor with a crowd of local gods and spirits cheering it on. (Let's not read any political or military overtones into this one; it's just about an old man reflecting on the most memorable time of his life, okay?) If that's not enough, Yurie's trip to the God Convention packs just as many flights of fancy: a flaming boar-carriage, a god of death that would do Neil Gaiman proud, and even a Famicom god if you keep your eyes open. Balancing out this explosion of fantasy is an intertwined transfer-school plot where Yurie learns a bit more about herself and how she relates to others. Even her crush Kenji is starting to think of her more often!
The world of Kamichu! wouldn't be nearly as fascinating were it not for the stunning visuals throughout the series—not the big-budget, in-your-face kind of stunning, but the kind where every little detail is handled so meticulously that you get absorbed into this world. Sometimes it's background details like the vibrant landscapes, which range from pastoral hometown scenery to the strangely colored sky in the land of the gods. Other times it's those quirks of animated motion: Matsuri delivering a flawless karate chop to Nishimura's head, or strands of Yurie's hair floating away when her godly effects wear off. Fancy effects aside, the fundamentals of animation are also handled with equal expertise. Distinctive character designs make it easy to get acquainted with Yurie and friends (even if the younger siblings' mouths seem a bit too far down their faces), and there hasn't been a single drop in linework or color quality since Episode 1.
A richly orchestrated soundtrack bridges the moods between the fantastic and the mundane, with idyllic instrumental solos for those outpourings of emotion and more inventive fare when spirituality comes into play. A sprightly march accompanies the dredging of the Yamato, and a trip to the world of the gods is never complete without traditional processional music—although apparently they have rock bands up there too. The fun, easygoing theme songs also make for great listening, emphasizing the uplifting mood of the show.
As the series ticks past the halfway point, the English dub has truly coalesced into a solid production: Megan Harvey's performance as Yurie is confident and charming, proving that she can hit the high end of her vocal range without losing control. Supporting cast members are equally adept, with the highlight being Carrie Savage's double role as Tama the cat and Poverty God (who lives inside Tama)—two different voices at least an octave and a half apart. The only letdown is a dub script that dodges the subtitles more than it probably should; obviously some rewrites are needed to keep the timing and mouthflaps straight, but there are times when certain lines completely change the meaning of a scene between the Japanese and English audio.
Once again a massive production gallery is the centerpiece of the DVD extras, with promotional art, character model sheets, staff comments, and a guide to the gods to keep all Kami-scholars satisfied. A limited edition pencilboard and reversible cover also provide more opportunities to enjoy the pleasant artwork.
Kamichu! is pure animated bliss for anyone who enjoys heartfelt stories and visual feasts of the imagination—and this disc in particular seems to have hit that ideal balance between Yurie's godly nature and the ordinary world that she lives in. Her humble self-description in Episode 12 is a microcosm of what the entire series is about: she's a god ... but mostly just a middle school student. She deals with all the things that middle school students must face: first love, friendship, rivalry, and the tumultuous crossing from childhood into adolescence. Being a god just provides unique opportunities for facing these trials of growing up. In Yurie's world, talking to your crush is just as challenging as raising the Yamato. Anyone who's ever been 13 years old would probably agree.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A
Story : B+
Animation : A+
Art : A
Music : A
+ Heartfelt, imaginative, and gorgeously animated (just like all the previous episodes).
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